Melchizedek and Psalms 23

In Genesis 14, in the wake of a highly improbable yet resounding victory against the Four Kings, the victorious Abram is visited by Melchizedek, king and high priest of Salem.

We do not know much about him, except that he blesses Abram four times on behalf of God Most High, and offers Abram a meal of bread and wine. He does so in open territory, in a valley setting, in view of all.

The imagery involved here is reminiscent of Psalms 23:

A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
   he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
   for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
   I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff—
   they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
   my whole life long.

The war in which Abram participated involved two Valleys, those of Siddim (i.e. a valley near the Dead Sea) and that of the Kings. The Hebrew word translated as valley is a word that means “vale,” and it is used only three times in the Bible, all in Genesis 14.

In Psalms 23, the poet writes about God the Shepherd leading David through “the valley of the shadow of death.” The word for “valley” here is a different word than the one used in Genesis, but they mean the same thing. In Genesis, they are not just any valleys, but the Valleys of Siddim and of the Kings, so they are called vales since these are proper nouns. In Psalms, we have an unnamed valley.

Melchizedek comes and lays a table for Abram in the wilderness. He prepares a table before him, in the presence of his enemies, just as the Psalmist receives from God the Shepherd.

For a long time, Christian apologetics made the claim that the Old Testament is understandable only “in light of the New.” But within the Old Testament, one passage also gives insight into another. It’s a woven tapestry filled with clues.

Melchizedek has been sent by God Most High to remind Abram that God Most High is his shepherd. Soon, as we will see, this Shepherd will begin to form the flock.


Noah and Abram/Abraham

In Genesis 6. 8 – 9, we have the following:

“But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord. These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.”

As we learn from Genesis 6 – 9, the exalted status of Noah was not to last long, as he would emerge from the Ark and soon thereafter plant a vineyard and . . . get drunk. His inebriation would provide the background to his curse of Ham’s son (Canaan). The Bible would then essentially dismiss the remainder of Noah’s life with the words, “After the flood Noah lived three hundred fifty years” (9.28); that is, there is nothing else to say.

So, with the story of Noah, we have a human being who is blameless, righteous, and who walks with God (clean sweep) at the beginning, but who falters at the end. It was through him that humanity was supposed to be given a second chance, so what is God to do now? In Genesis 9, God backstops himself from repeating the Flood, with an everlasting covenant sealed by a rainbow. God cannot wash his hands clean and forget about it all, since through his promise he has committed to humanity.

In Genesis 11 – 12, we are introduced to Abram (i.e., “exalted human being”), a city dweller with . . . many slaves. In chapter 12 we encounter an arrogant, entitled, and selfish human being, who places his wife’s life in jeopardy just to save his own skin. He gets richer through deceit and ends up with . . . more slaves.

By chapter 15, his trust will be accounted to him as righteousness, and in chapter 17, God will command him to “walk before me, and be blameless” (17.1).

So, what is going on?

Well, God will not again begin with the perfect, only to see them falter at the end. He begins with a typical, self-entitled human being, and reforms that human to walk before God and to be blameless. He begins with a broken vessel and fixes it. He teaches him how to walk before God and how to be blameless. It takes time.

Abram is us — exalted in our thinking, entitled, possessive, and all too relatable.

Jesus later on will explain this when he says that those who are high will be brought low, and the humble will be exalted (Matthew 23. 12). It is not how you begin life, but how you end.